Architecture Design Process: The 7 phases

The development of a building is a lengthy process. In fact, architects follow a set of steps to ensure that...
Architecture design process

The architecture design process…

From its inception through to completion, the development of an architectural project is an extremely lengthy process, with many external influences, regulations, and forces to consider as well the various contributing internal elements of the design team.

As a result of this there are a core set of drawings and documents that (most) projects require in order for them to be procured successfully, and be completed efficiently and without error.

…and these are broken down into what is frequently refereed to as the architecture design process. But… 

Why do we need a set of architectural design phases, and are they even important?

The architecture design process (commonly broken down into 7 phases), enables a project to be developed and analysed in set stages.

This helps to provide a system and order to the projects program, identifies periods of review, creates a structured release of design information, and natural stages of invoicing.

Managing the design and construction of any building is a great responsibility, and primary reason why the profession is so heavy regulated. 

There is very little room for revision once a project starts its construction process and next to none once completed. As a result, having a set of architectural design phases helps organize its management, and coherently communicate its design intent. 

Following a set of design phases enables the production information to be efficient and transparent, and ultimately reduce as much risk as possible.

In this article, we’ve outlined each of these stages – from gathering information, designing, to constructing.

If you’re an architecture student, the design process is similar to that of architects, and we also highlight here the key steps to follow to complete your project in an organized way.


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The 7 phase to the architecture design process

From architects to contractors and engineers, many teams of professionals work on the development of a building – the architectural design process helps these different parties to work together and smoothly.

The following set of design phases set clear expectations by putting in place realistic project deliverable’s and deadlines.

01 – Pre-design phase

The pre-design (pd) phase, or the programming phase, is dedicated to understanding the project brief and clients needs, researching information that’s relevant to the project, and considering ideas.

Define the problem

First, it is important to identify the projects requirements as the client for example may have constraints such as a tight budget or limited time to complete the desired outcome. Here we must develop an initial design brief to define the project, analyse its characteristics and identify its objectives.

Research and collect information

Now that you have identified these, it is necessary to gather information that will support the development of the project. Moreover, the data you collect may help inform design decisions in later steps.

Here is some information that is important to research about a project:

  • Project scope
  • Client’s desires
  • Scale
  • Building use
  • Surrounding buildings
  • Neighborhood
  • Site conditions
  • Building codes
  • Zoning laws

Dedicated analysis of the site will supply relevant information such as the site’s limitations and benefits. Consequently, this makes the architect consider how to respond to these conditions.

For additional information regarding the site, have a look at Introduction to Architecture Site Analysis.

Brainstorm/analyze ideas

Once you’ve gathered information about the project, the next step is to generate and consider solutions. Using your knowledge of architecture, sketch and model possible designs that address the site conditions and client’s needs.

Additionally, you may consider different elements that you want to incorporate into your project.

How to Develop and Architecture Design concept contains more information on developing project ideas.

After you brainstorm initial designs for the project, it is time to review them and consider which elements are working. For example, the shadow conditions of one idea may be most favorable, while the layout of another might function the best.

This can lead you to develop a more thorough design that includes characteristics of several initial ideas.

Architecture Design Process: The 7 phases

02 – Schematic design and programming phase

Following the first consideration of ideas for the project, the next process is to develop designs and present them to the client.

Develop design proposals

During the schematic design phase, architects develop site plans, floor plans, and building elevations to represent their designs. Additionally, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems are also included.

Present your ideas to others for feedback

Architect’s have multiple meetings with the client to present drawings and models of different possibilities, where they discuss what ideas they find favorable.

Occasionally, there is disagreement between the architect and the client over the design or specific feature of the building. Therefore, it is important to consider the client’s wishes as well as and be convincing when presenting ideas.


After meeting with clients, an architect then considers the feedback. While changes can be made to the project later on, it is easier to do so in an earlier stage of the architectural design process.

Ultimately, the architect and client will meet until they both agree on a design direction for the next phase.

03 – Design development phase

During the next stage, the architect creates a more detailed plan of the design that he/she and the client agreed upon. This includes the placement of the doors and windows and adjusting the building form.

At which stage a structural engineer is engaged to join the design team, where they can help with project estimates and how different designs can be constructed.


The architect will present interior and exterior finishes to the client. Additionally, elements such as materials, fixtures, and finishes will be discussed. In times of disagreement, you may have to compromise over these details with the client.


At the end of the design development phase, the building’s exterior, layout, and dimensions are all completed. Additionally, most of the materials will already have been chosen. Final minor changes are made to the building’s design.

Architecture Design Process: The 7 phases

04 – Construction drawings and documents phase

In the next stage, the architect transitions from providing design services to producing working construction drawings for the development of the project.

Usually, this is the longest step in the architectural design process, as architects must ensure their design is planned well for execution, as well as waiting for documents to be approved.

Additionally, an in-house construction contractor may join the development team at this stage. The two sets of drawings that are required at this point are the permit set and the construction set.

The building permit set is sent to the local permitting authority for approval. The process can take a while, so it’s crucial to complete and submit this first.

The Issue for construction set contains all of the details and dimensions to communicate the design to the builder throughout the construction process. 

04 – Building permit phase

Once the architect submits the building permit set, the city or county reviews it for structural integrity and following the local zoning laws and building codes.

This is necessary to safeguard architects, builders, and property owners from possibly dangerous mistakes in construction. Additionally, the project’s construction cannot legally begin without securing the permits first.

For small projects, the approval can take a couple days. However, larger projects or buildings in historic districts can take months for approval.  

06 – Bidding and negotiation phase

This step is only applicable to architecture firms that aren’t building the project themselves.

In the bidding phase, architects must locate a construction company to build their design. It is easier to find a builder if your project already has its permits, as it’s ready to start construction.

Moreover, the architect’s role is to advise the client in selecting a contractor that offers the best qualifications and cost. The first method is the negotiated bid. During meetings, the builders go through construction documents and reviews materials and finish schedules. In some cases, the client already has a builder in mind.

In the competitive bid process, the architect researches local builders and their past projects. Afterwards, the architect invites contractors to compete for the project.

Once the construction documents are sent over, contractors usually have around three weeks to develop a bid to present. The main factor that is considered when hiring a contractor is the cost, but quality and experience are also important.

Additionally, the construction company forms a contract with the client rather than the architect. Therefore, clients will want to make sure that an excellent builder is hired for the job.

Architecture design process Diagram from
Architecture design process Diagram from

07 – Contract documents and administration phase

In the final design process, the architect frequently visits the site to answer any of the builders’ questions and address possible issues, this is crucial to avoid delays .

Depending on the scale of the project, the architect may visit the site every week or month. Moreover, the construction crew now has control over the development of the project.

Depending on the project, this phase can take several years until the building’s construction is completed.

The  architectural design process for students

While architecture students usually don’t develop projects that actually get built, they must follow a similar design process. This is helpful for planning your schedule and improving your design.

Define the problem

Similar to practicing architects, students should identify what the task is. Often, an assignment sheet will provide this information as well as the site’s location and deliverable’s that the professor requires.

A professor may want a physical scale model (i.e. ⅛ in = 1 ft), a slide show presentation, along with a set number of printed drawings.

Collect information

Once you recognize what the project is, you need to gather data that will help inform your designs through site analysis and research. Of course, this only applies if there is a specific site for your project. If close, you can visit the site and document the following information for example:

  • Sun’s direction
  • Weather conditions
  • Location of trees
  • Dimensions
  • Surrounding buildings
  • Circulation of people on/around the site

If the location is too far to visit, you can virtually examine the site’s conditions using Google Maps Street View or Google Earth.

Brainstorm and Analyze Ideas

After the collection of site information, you can think about how to approach the prompt and specific design elements that you want to incorporate into your project.

For instance, what style of architecture will your building be? An example of a design element would be an outdoor space with shade. 

Develop Solutions

Once you consider elements to include, you can start developing concepts for your design. The Kent School of Architecture and Planning suggests that students sketch out their ideas.

At this stage, quick physical drawings are more effective than using computer software, as they are better at expressing your various ideas and recording concepts on the spot.

You may review your ideas and then model one virtually, using software such as Rhino, AutoCad, or SketchUp. Developing plans and sections will help communicate your ideas to others for the next stage.

Gather Feedback

Discover Design highlights the importance of presenting your ideas to as many people that can help with the development of your project. Depending on your class, you may have full or desk crits before the final presentation.

Therefore, you should note all of the feedback from professors and peers. It is useful to bring a notebook and pen to crits to jot down any feedback you receive. Another tip is to talk to teaching assistants or older students if you’re unsure about any ideas.


After receiving feedback, consider making changes that could improve your design and you agree with. You will most likely go through several rounds of obtaining feedback and making revisions, but it will ultimately shape you into a greater designer.

Additionally, finalizing your project includes developing additional drawings that communicate your project. For example, an exploded axonometric drawing.

For more information on this, check out An Architect’s Guide to Architecture Drawing. Additionally, developing physical models along the way will help you understand the scale, lighting, and materials of the project.


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Overall, architects bear the large responsibility to design the buildings around us. In order to generate effective solutions and ensure the structural integrity of a project, following an order of steps is necessary.

Moreover, architects must consult with the client regarding their design, building features, and selecting a builder. 

Meanwhile, architecture students follow a similar process to define the problem, come up with ideas, present to others, and make revisions.

FAQ’s about the architecture design process

What is the order of architecture design?

The process of architectural design can vary based on the nature of the project, its size, and the specific methodologies followed by architects. However to summarize, a typical order of architectural design phases, as often taught in architecture schools and practiced in many architectural firms, consists of the following stages:

  1. Pre-Design or Preliminary Phase
    • Programming: Identify the needs, desires, and functions that the building must support.
    • Feasibility Studies: Evaluate the project’s viability, including potential site evaluations.
    • Site Analysis: Understand the characteristics of the project’s physical location, such as sun path, wind patterns, topography, views, and surrounding context.
  2. Schematic Design (SD)
    • Develop preliminary design concepts.
    • Create rough sketches and basic layouts.
    • Initial discussions about materials, systems, and structure.
    • Preliminary cost estimation.
  3. Design Development (DD)
    • Refine and detail the schematic design.
    • Detailed drawings and other documents are produced.
    • Choose specific materials and systems.
    • Update cost estimation based on more detailed design.
  4. Construction Documents (CD)
    • Produce detailed drawings and specifications that will guide the contractors in construction.
    • These documents are used for bidding and construction, and they’re legally binding.
  5. Bidding or Negotiation
    • The project owner (or their representative) seeks bids or negotiates with contractors.
    • The architect might assist in evaluating bids or proposals.
  6. Construction Administration (CA)
    • The architect monitors the construction process to ensure it aligns with the design intent.
    • Address any issues or questions that arise during construction.
    • Review and approve (or reject) contractor payments based on work progress.
  7. Post-Construction
    • Building Commissioning: This ensures that building systems are designed, installed, and calibrated to operate as intended.
    • Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE): Feedback is gathered from the building’s users to understand what works and what doesn’t in the completed building.

It’s worth noting that in many modern architectural practices, especially with the adoption of integrated design processes and Building Information Modeling (BIM), these phases might overlap, and the process can be more iterative. Collaborations with other disciplines like structural, mechanical, and civil engineering may also influence the order and flow of work.

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